Thoughts on Lecavalier, Holmgren, and the laughing stock the Flyers have (undeservedly) become

I’ve been meaning to write about the Flyers for the last week.

I had this grandiose idea that – bear with me – the Flyers have actually been secretly rebuilding for the last two seasons.

Think about it. A year after coming two games from winning a Cup, they were the Eastern Conference’s best team for the majority of the season. Then the team flamed out down the stretch and crashed in the second round of the playoffs. After that season, the team’s two pillars and arguably most recognizable players get traded in separate deals for prospects and up-and-coming assets to add to the stable of young players already on the roster.

Then, they stick with the young nucleus for two seasons and, potentially, through this offseason. Waiting for Brayden Schenn, Sean Couturier and the other young players to rise up and complete this grand puzzle Paul Holmgren has been assembling since he took apart the last successful group of Flyers.

I’m starting to think: “Hey, maybe Holmgren actually has an incredibly developed plan — He continues pumping this roster with young guys and acquires enough veterans and star value to appease a rabid fan base and a hands-on owner…”

Then yesterday happened and… umm, well, nevermind. We might have to reevaluate this.

Don’t get me wrong – I actually think the Flyers, at the current moment, have more clarity than they’ve had in years. But I’ll get to that shortly.

I just find it immensely entertaining just following this team.

I don’t often find myself agreeing with the management. Shit, it usually piss me off.

How much money? How many years?!?

Then Holmgren and company might screw up a contract, say Max Talbot or Mark Streit, and have to re-file it with the league. Little, stupid, embarrassing mistakes. The Flyers often look like they have no clue what they’re doing.

Much of the fan base and most hockey fans around the country have turned the Flyers into a punchline.

We have ideas of what this team is:

Big, reckless contracts, veterans, Broad Street Bully nostalgia – Philadelphia typical.

There was a time when Philadelphia and the fans appreciated the fact that the Flyers were aggressive every year. After enough time, when that aggression does not produce results they look foolish.

Everyone likes to say Holmgren has balls, or at least they used to.

But, two seasons after dismantling team that was so close to making Holmgren forever revered, he looks dumb.

Each of the past three seasons the Flyers probably took a step backward.

That said, shouldn’t we operate with these thoughts in mind:

-He traded Mike Richards and Jeff Carter when both were in their respective primes at peak value.

-With Pronger no longer reliable due to his health (remember those back injuries?), that group might have made it as far as it could.

-He NAILED those trades. Would you rather have Jakub Voracek or Jeff Carter next season? What about the next three? I’m going Voracek on both. Oh, and he got the picks that led to Couturier and Nick Cousins. Getting Schenn and Wayne Simmonds, two key players on the current roster, in exchange for Richards wasn’t a bad haul, either.

-Because the Ilya Bryzgalov signing  accompanied these trades, we never thought of this roster’s development on the whole. This team should have been seen as a work in progress. Stepping back to becoming a young team that was at least three years away, and that was before we knew Claude Giroux is incredible. But how much of the Bryzaster © can be pinned on Ed Snider?

-Yes, I’m ignoring off-ice concerns because I don’t have that information and don’t wish to speculate.

The last few days I’ve found myself revisiting my thoughts on Holmgren.

Look at the Voracek and Simmonds contract extensions — they’re gold. There are quite a few assets on this roster.

We never thought of the Flyers were rebuilding. The Flyers most important players went from guys in their prime like Richards, Carter, Pronger, and Briere to Giroux, Schenn, Couturier, Voracek, and James van Riemsdyk.

He used Jaromir Jagr to help Band-Aid the season and the team didn’t have a massive drop off.

If someone has balls and fails on a risk, they look stupid. But what if Holmgren was actually working on a more long-term plan than we thought?

The Flyers have constantly spent to the cap no matter what the outlook seems to be. Every time it looks like they’ll finally be in financial trouble, the ceiling goes up, or they’re bailed out by amnesty buyouts.

Maybe this was a part of the plan?

I really don’t know. Holmgren may be an incredibly ballsy, competent general manager. He could also be a lucky moron.

That’s sort of where the Vincent Lecavalier signing took me (yeah, I should probably go see a shrink when I finish writing this).

The reaction to the signing kind of shocked me. The Flyers have become a laughing stock. Twitter was stunned, and mostly pointing and mocking the Flyers being, well, the Flyers.

The public perception was that Holmgren went to CapGeek, saw the Flyers lacking their usual red ink and buried under a bevy of teams that had used more cap space so he immediately decided that needed to change and found the biggest name to do so.

Lecavalier put up 32 points in 39 games last year, is great on the power play and should fix a dysfunctional second unit, and is $2 million cheaper than Danny Briere while providing more defensive value.

Everyone knew the Flyers needed a forward. Do you really want Jason Akeson playing meaningful minutes from the jump?

Nobody had any issues with any of the rumors. The Flyers have been connected to Nathan Horton (seeking five-six years/$30-36 mil), Bryan Bickell (signed for four years/$16 mil), and David Clarkson (looking for seven years/$42 mil).

Horton is a strong player, but has had injury issues. Bickell is 27 and has 40 goals in 220 career games. Clarkson … I don’t even know where to start with those demands.

Any of those contracts would be much worse than Lecavalier’s.

He’s been more productive than any of the other options over the past few seasons and he came much cheaper. At the least, the Flyers can count on Lecavalier to play a role comparable to what Briere did a few years ago but with more defensive responsibility, providing needed forward depth.

Last three seasons (games in parentheses):

Goals Assists Points Power Play Goals Power Play Assists
Lecavalier (168) 57 78 135 22 26
Horton (169) 56 51 107 12 5
Bickell (197) 35 49 84 2 1
Clarkson (210) 57 31 88 15 11

Lecavalier is 33, Horton is 28, Bickell is 27, and Clarkson is 29. Even if Lecavalier drops off over the next few years, he’s should still put up comparable numbers to any of those players.

(For fun, Briere, 35, had 56 goals, 77 assists, 133 points, 13 PPG, 25 PPA in 181 games)

Of the available options, the Lecavalier signing makes a lot of sense to me.

Also, when the Penguins give 34-year-old Pascal Dupuis, a player who cracked 40(!) points for the first time since 2002-03 because he played with Sidney Crosby the last two seasons, four years at $3.75 mil/year, nobody bats an eyelash. The Flyers have a stigma, and the Lecavalier contract is a much better bargain than the replaceable Dupuis.

Now, how does he and his contract fit long term.

On the ice:

Hartnell/Giroux/Voracek

B. Schenn/Lecavalier/Simmonds

McGinn/Couturier/Read

Talbot/Laughton/Rinaldo

The Lecavalier move will probably slide Schenn to the wing and help give Couturier the ability to play with more skilled wingers. Schenn always had a bad tendency to dump the puck instead of carrying it and maintaining possession into the offensive zone. Moving him to wing might actually be a more natural fit.

Lecavalier won 54.4 percent of his faceoffs last season. The Flyers were 23rd in the league at 48.5 percent.

Also, I can’t stress this enough — he’ll help stabilize a putrid second power play unit along with Streit.

I guess the biggest concern isn’t Lecavalier’s production on the ice. Rather, the critics are concerned with paying a forward when the team’s weaknesses are at defense and in net. The concern is that this deal eats of cap space and will prevent them from acquiring an available player to fix those issues.

Flyers have nine defensemen on the roster. Most of them are second- or third-paining level players. Kimmo Timonen claims a de facto top-pairing responsibility and does a serviceable job even in his later years. If a stud defenseman was available, it would make the Flyers significantly better.

That said, I don’t see how Lecavalier relates to that ongoing pursuit.

Look at this list.

Do you really think Ron Hainsey is the answer? Winnipeg’s third-best defenseman? Most of the options available are second- and third-pairing caliber players, much like what the Flyers already possess.

It’s a truly terrible market. The Flyers already signed the best available defenseman when they inked Mark Streit. That problem won’t be and likely can’t be answered immediately.

As far as goaltending goes, there’s another weak market.

Even if the Flyers go the Tim Thomas route, he might be affordable in a soft market. There just aren’t many teams looking for goalies so he should come fairly cheap.

Lecavalier was one of the biggest difference makers left on the free agency market, and a player that would help fill a need. Holmgren snagged him and the 2013-14 Flyers will be as good as they can possibly be, and this move won’t affect long-term cap concerns.

Right now the Flyers are a little over $300,000 over the cap. Here’s how this will work:

Demote Akeson-900k

Demote either Marc-Andre Bourdon (612.5k) or Bruno Gervais ($825k)

Trade either Andrej Meszaros (4 mil) or Braydon Coburn (4.5 mil)

LTIR Chris Pronger (4.9 mil)

Rough calculation, at the very least that frees up 10.4 mil. Easily enough to get under the cap and add a goalie. Really, if a stud defenseman was available, both Coburn and Meszaros could be dealt and I’m certain another roster player would have to move. What I’m saying is that the Flyers have roster flexibility to add anyone.

Long term it’s comparable. The salary cap is expected to rise back over $70 million. The Flyers lose Timonen’s and Meszaros’ contracts, which should make it easy to wrap up Giroux and re-sign Schenn, Couturier, and maybe even Matt Read.

The Lecavalier move looked like another stupid, hasty Flyers move at first glance, but really manageable long term.

The more I look back on the past few years of this team and a lot of its major decisions, I find myself finding logic in them.

Holmgren made another ballsy move pushing the envelope on the salary cap, banking it will rise, and no better options will immediately arise on how to spend his cap space. Maybe by the end of Lecavalier’s deal, the salary cap shoots up and recreates our idea of a fair price, making 38-year-old Lecavalier affordable.

What if Lecavalier develops into a new version of Jagr over the next few seasons? A player who can Band-Aid a weakness before he completely falls off, then transition into a secondary role as younger players develop around him.

Public perception is that the Flyers struggle to look beyond their current move. I think Flyers fans and the hockey world has that same issue.

A cap number only means so much without context and without the moves that follow, and people jumped all over this move before really evaluating the current situation.

Surprisingly, the Flyers had a lot of salary flexibility this offseason and that will continue into the future with Voracek, Simmonds,
and other key pieces wrapped up to manageable contracts. They had, still have, and will have money to spend, so they a responsible amount to make this team better.

I’m not going to call the guy who signed Jody Shelley a genius, but this roster is slowly coming together. If Schenn and Couturier progress, if Laughton and Cousins fill bottom-six roles as they should, if Hartnell and Lecavalier maintain some type of production through the next few years, this has the makings of a very dangerous and deep group of forwards.

If somehow they can finally find someone to fill the void of Pronger, they’re much closer than we realize.

The Flyers are active and it’s easy to judge them. But they are still in a good situation as a franchise. They have talent on the roster and in the system and enough salary cap flexibility to make whatever move necessary to reach the next level. Are they even in a worse spot than they were before trading Carter and Richards?

Both forwards are 28 and if they weren’t going to finish the deal over the last two seasons here, which would be unlikely without Pronger, the Flyers nucleus would be on the downswing and in need of a rebuild.

Instead this team has upside and should improve off last season. Bryzgalov was a disaster in net to the point where an average goalie would be a significant upgrade.  Coburn should be better when he will be paired with a puck mover (if he’s still here) and the defense is deeper with Streit. With Lecavalier, there should be three scoring lines again and young players should continue to develop.

Maybe they could just be lucky they haven’t completely fallen apart yet or maybe I was right and they have been rebuilding and there has been a long-term plan all along.

But we’re way too quick to laugh off Holmgren.

Posted on July 3, 2013, in Flyers, Nick Carroll, Posts and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Hey man, I agree. I can def smell what ur stepping in. Everyone (mostly half assed, fair weather Crosby fans) bashes the flyers for always going after the big name, but the Vinny deal was brilliant. Plus the Flyers are usually playoff bound almost every year, so theres that. Homer is a gambling man. People used to say homer had balls when he landed pronger. That was a great great move. No one would disagree. Then losing a piece like that obviously threw a huge wrench in the works, and that’s why they’re making lots of moves the past couple years. Anyway, I def think you’re rite, and they’ve had a Devine plan since trading Carter and Richards. (Sorry for rambling)

  1. Pingback: Around the Cooler 07/04/13 – Lecavalier, the NHL draft, and other Flyers craziness | The Wooder Cooler

  2. Pingback: Whew, that was good – Ray Emery and what-should-be the 2013-14 Flyers | The Wooder Cooler

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